[OUTLOOK]'Han' and some fishy jet fightersA Canadian professor, Sam Carter, insists that he knows Korea well. When asked about the difference between Americans and Canadians, he replied that there is an inferiority complex in being the neighbor of a powerful country. Mr. Carter added that the inferiority complex is much like han, which in Korean means a deeply imbedded sorrow arising from injustice.
Although I acknowledge Mr. Carter's vast knowledge, it was hard for me as a Korean to accept his comments about han. In thinking about an inferiority complex resulting from proximity to powerful nations, I wondered if the Korean and Canadian experience could be compared. Suddenly I remembered Sumi Jo's recent music video, widely popular for several months. It portrayed the death of the last Korean empress, who was killed by Japanese assassins in 1895.
The opening of the World Cup soccer tournament, co-hosted by Korea and Japan, is less than two months away. Sumi Jo's music video is no longer shown on television very much, and I wondered why that was so. My query about the music video, I believe, is related to han.
The recognition of the refugee status of North Korean defectors living in China, the status in Korea of ethnic Koreans living in China and even the unsatisfactory response of the Korean government to the issue of imported fish containing lead from China all occurred because we have been victims of the sorrow mixed with outrage and impotence that is imbedded deeply in our bones.
Even our great-grandmothers who were forced to go to China during the Qing Dynasty had to die in pain; they were referred to as prostitutes after returning to Korea. The inferiority complex of a powerless nation is passed on from one generation to the next.
But what about our situation in regard to the United States? Koreans believe that if it were not for General Douglas MacAuthur during the Korean War, Seoul would have become the second city of a communist nation. Yet Koreans seem to feel humiliation over the Status of Forces Agreement, which in part deals with crimes committed by U.S. military personnel against Korean civilians.
Most people fear the kind of unification that would put Seoul under a communist regime; they think it is inevitable that military cooperation with the United States should be continued.
That psychology was maintained intact even during the period of the strong sunshine policy drive, which started when President Kim Dae-jung hugged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il two years ago.
In trade, tourism or education abroad, the United States influence on Korea exceeds that of either Japan and China, influence accumulated throughout their shared history with Korea.
Treachery committed by a person in whom the other has complete faith is much more painful then the same act committed by a person who is not close.
The suspicion is spreading that the United States has pressured the National Defense Ministry to select the F-15K fighter jet, and there is criticism that the U.S. Boeing Company is trying to sell the F-15K in order to get rid of the old inferior models.
Amid the conflict in selecting the fighter jets, a so-called "DJ file," an audio file that criticizes the fighter jet program using an impersonation of President Kim's voice, is circulating around the Internet.
The file starts with a phone ringing, and the phone is answered by U.S. President George W. Bush. Then Mr. Kim makes harsh comments using foul language to Mr. Bush over the issue of the fighter jets. A lot of Koreans have listened to the sound clip, and it is spreading like wildfire. Most people feel some hidden satisfaction after listening to the harsh remarks and foul language aimed at the U.S. president.
If the situation has reached such a point, the competitive bid is no longer a military issue. A few years ago, American legislators lobbied our government to lift the import ban on U.S. canned salmon. The canned salmon was at the time banned from sale in the United States.
If there were an audio file at the time of the salmon incident, wouldn't it have started by telling the U.S. government to stuff its tainted canned salmon?
The most significant rule in the United States is "do not ask others to do something that you wouldn't do yourself." If it were the U.S. military selecting the fighter jets, would it purchase 5 trillion won ($3.8 billion) worth to put their sons and daughters in such planes? If the military and politicians answer, "We wouldn't but Korea's case is different," then the grudge in the hearts of Koreans would become more deep-rooted. Would it not be illogical in the long run to sell F-15Ks for a quick profit?
The writer is a culture critic.
by Suh Jeong-shin